By Robert Scheer
The 50-year Iraq war—bring it on. Not that the media or the Democrats made much of it, but the White House’s admission that President Bush is modeling America’s presence in Iraq upon the 54-year-old stationing of U.S. troops in South Korea is as outlandish as it is alarming. Outlandish, when the president of what is still presumably a representative democracy willfully ignores voters’ demands that the occupation be brought to a timely end; alarming, because Bush has clearly not understood that it is the U.S. occupation that feeds the nationalist and religious frenzy roiling Iraq, and the entire Middle East.
The president, obviously clueless as to the widespread resentment in the region over a history of Western plunder of Mideast oil, seems determined to give the insurgents of every stripe their best recruiting poster. The analogy with South Korea, an artificially divided country that does not possess oil or any other exploitable resource, is wrong—except for one ominous parallel. The main U.S. military mission in South Korea is to protect the border against a well-armed northern enemy; likewise, Bush administration officials cited protecting Iraq’s borders, particularly with Iran, as the major task of a future American deployment.
One could not conjure up a better prescription for embroiling this nation in an increasingly deadly quagmire. The chaos attendant to bringing order to Iraq’s cities is nothing compared to the attempt to police some of the world’s most porous borders while fervid allies abound on both sides. Clearly, someone in the White House has noticed by now that the folks pretending to rule Iraq from the U.S. protectorate of the Green Zone are closely tied to the leaders of “rogue nation” Iran, where top Shiite leaders spent decades being trained in exile during Saddam Hussein’s reign. Policing that border means severing long-standing radical religious ties that have been mobilized to support those Iraqi militias trained in Iran and now fully incorporated into the Iraq army and police force. A similar conundrum exists on the borders with Arab countries that have their own deep ties to the Sunni insurgency.
Thus, the proper analogy is not with Korea but rather Vietnam, where porous borders allowed the northern regime to support their southern surrogates, first with equipment and later with troops, in a war against foreign occupation that most Vietnamese believed was just. Yet the Bush administration references the lengthy occupation of Vietnam only by disingenuously referring to the United States’ departure as an abrupt end to a brief occupation (actually 20 years) that would have proved successful if allowed to continue. Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates said the United States must assure Middle Eastern allies that it will not withdraw from Iraq as from Vietnam, “lock, stock and barrel.”
What is particularly obtuse about that statement, echoing similar sentiments from the president himself, is that leaving Vietnam is presented as a mistake. That exit, ignominious in its haste and disarray, could have been orderly, had the negotiations for a more planned and measured American withdrawal not been postponed until the final moment. But by what standard can the end of the U.S. occupation of Vietnam be thought to have undermined U.S. security when the only threat from Vietnam is that it is now challenging China for shelf space at Wal-Mart? Not a single Asian domino fell to communism after the abrupt withdrawal of U.S. troops, as hawks had predicted; instead, Red Vietnam and Red China went to war over border issues that had been a thousand years in the making.
At a time when the United States has more troops, official and private, proportionate to the host population than it did at the height of the Vietnam War, and when once again it is clear that a military “surge” is not the answer, it is bizarre that this administration gets away with staying the course. To his credit, U.S. Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois was the only presidential candidate at the Democrats’ debate to criticize the Korea analogy, warning: “Keep in mind we’ve been there six decades in the Korean peninsula, and the best way for us to support the troops is that we are not continuing to try to impose a military solution on what is essentially a political problem in Iraq.”
Hear, hear. The alternative is the spectacle of helicopters eventually lifting a new generation of desperate refugees from the rooftops of Baghdad after many more American and Iraqi deaths.
AP Photo / Darko Vojinovic
A U.S. soldier from the 2nd Battalion, 17th Field Artillery Regiment, checks out the toy armaments of Iraqi children during a patrol in December 2006.